Yesterday I took a break from school to go birding and enjoy the spring weather. After looking out the window and noticing that the temperature was +8C, seeing the sun and the water dripping from the roof, and hearing the birds singing their hearts out, I quickly packed up my birding pack and scope and set out. Walking down California Beach I could smell the sap running and the faint scent of warm earth. There was no wind, and everything was very quiet. A dog suddenly started barking and ran over to check me out, wagging and panting, before resuming guard duty in his driveway. After waiting for the swans to arrive in Tagish for the past two weeks since they first showed up at Johnson’s Crossing, I felt this would finally be the day that I would see them. The only thing missing from my spring experience was the sight of their snowy-white be-hinds as they dipped underwater.
As I walked to my favourite ridge halfway down California Beach, the harsh croaking of three ravens sounded nearby followed by the strange call of a magpie. Mini melt streams ran by one side of the ridge, and half of the ridge was bare of snow. Putting my hand to the dirt and juniper berry plants it felt warm. I started slowly scanning Tagish Lake with my scope, starting from the edge of the ice furthest away from me and working towards the head of the river. Various chunks of ice floated in the open water. As I passed them over, two pointed ice-chunk look-a-likes flipped up to reveal the long, arching necks of two Trumpeter Swans. Finally, my picture was complete. After immediately calling a few people who I knew had been eagerly awaiting their return I went back to my scope. It was a very peaceful sight, the first two swans of spring in Tagish gracefully eating what weeds they had picked from beneath the lake surface, before clumsily tipping themselves over to search for more.
I moved on, counting more waterfowl along the edge of the lake ice. The sun brought out their colours and markings brilliantly allowing me to identify distant birds that I would not have been able to if it had been overcast. I found the three Bufflehead that had been hanging out all winter (one male and two females), and then noticed a fourth pop up beside them. A new member in the group! The Common Mergansers (eighteen of them) were lined up along the ice edge, most of them with their heads tucked between their shoulders in blissful slumber. The others mingled with the forty-one Common Goldeneye, which consisted mostly of males frantically displaying for a female. They picked one female out of the group, and that female was surrounded by the males making their creaking calls and throwing their heads back in an enthusiastic display. The female looked like she was trying to escape their attention and dodge them all. The rest of the females trailed behind the males, seemingly hoping that the males would eventually notice the rest of them.
Moving on past the drama and going further downstream, a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye swam into view. No drama there, just a peaceful couple going for a quiet paddle up the river. The females’ bright orange bill stood out in contrast to the dark river water, and the males’ spiffy plumage caught the sunlight and shone. A second pair followed the first. Movement across the river caught my eye; swinging the scope over to the three figures across the river from me, I discovered a pack of Coyotes that had been laying on the ice enjoying the sunlight and warmth along with the rest of us. Mostly likely the same three Coyotes that have been visiting us frequently during the night through the winter to lick the bird seed out of the low platform feeders and to serenade us with a wild song. After a while they stood up and quickly trotted down the lake. I was shocked at how fast they made progress; they were gone in no time at all. The sun went behind a cloud and did not look as though it would emerge again before it went behind the mountain, so I packed up and turned to walk back home. My day of spring had come to an end.
All drawings used in this post are by Beakingoff and can not be reproduced or distributed without the permission of the author/artist.